Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fundraising season

There are two times of year, the fundraising emails/events and phone calls are heaviest.

 I love the Charlottesville events. A few of my favorite fundraising events are:
1. The Grace Tinsley Fundraiser (in January, provides scholarships for Charlottesville graduates);
2. African American Teaching Fellows Dinner (usually in October to increase the number of minority teachers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area),\;
3. Charlottesville Community Scholarship Program (in the Fall, the program offers scholarships for area students to attend college);
4. The NAACP dinner (in the Fall, the event has a heavy emphasis on education, honoring teachers and local students);
5. The Emily Couric Leadership Luncheon (late Spring, provides scholarships for area women); and
6. Local Democratic committee fundraisers (Albemarle county has its BBQ in September and Charlottesville has its pasta supper in the Spring, April in 2013).

I am privileged to attend some of these events every year. This year I may not be able to attend many of these, but I hope you will consider supporting these great organiations.  Please check your calendar (and wallet) and try to make some of them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More budget talk

This budget season has stretched from last year's budget season. It seems neverending. I cant imagine being a school board where we are developing new initiatives that actually cost money and have to request money for those initiatives. Instead we are asking City Council for money to cover a deficit of $1.44 million dollars to keep operating our current programming (with two minor exceptions).*

Last night, I attended the Greenbrier PTO Budget Session (as I did with Clark a few weeks ago). A few brave parents made it out to discuss their priorities. I truly appreciate their comments and the comments of all those who have opinions about the budget and our priorities. One thing is very clear when talking to parents, they really value the programs and staff at our schools. These parents specifically mentioned the reading intervention program (Book Buddies), the Band program at Buford and the elementary guidance counselors as real sources of strength in our schools.

As I understand the process, these public comment opportunities allow the superintendent to create her recommendations. She has revised her recommendations several times with the public and her staff's input. On Friday (February 1st), we are meeting with Council to determine if they are able to provide additional funding so that the School's reductions do not have to be so dramatic. One Saturday the 2nd, the School Board will meet to discuss priorities and potential areas of reductions. Finally, the following Thursday (the 7th), the superintendent will present her budget recommendations to the Board at our meeting.

I look forward to hearing the superintendent's recommendations after having so much public input.  While I have my own ideas for reduction areas, I recognize I work on a Board with 6 other people (with their own ideas) and staff who have worked in education a long time who have their own ideas. I look forward to a productive and civilized process with a result that serves our schools and community.

* two minor exceptions: Spanish program (totalling $18,149 increase this year) and Associates Degree Program with PVCC (a state mandate costing approximately $45,000 this year).

Monday, January 28, 2013

More delays for schools

I know there are people out there who when they look out their window this morning see a very slick road surface and ice falling from the sky. This is not the case at our house. Our car has some melting ice on it, otherwise the road surface is wet and the precipitation is rain.
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Schools are on delay (again) and Ryan's first little gymnastics class is cancelled because of the delay. Since the kids have returned to school from winter break, there has been no rhythm. We are out of sorts in the mornings and the evenings. I cant imagine the efforts that teachers have to make in order to keep the rhythm in the classrooms when weather has been so disruptive.

Even more important than our little routine are the parents who really cant adjust their schedules at the last minute. This Albemarle County program where children come for the day (if the schools are closed for more than one day in a row) is a good start to what we can do to support working parents. ACAC has a similar fee based program on snow days for years. ACAC also offers the program (Kids Day Off) when area children are scheduled off. Check ACAC's website for additional information.

I do not know about similar programs in the City of Charlottesville. I think it is important for the community to support parents who work on those unplanned days off. I have had generous friends or family who are willing to take the children for a few hours so I can "get some work done" (which I rationalize is better than not getting any work done). Some folks in our community do not have the social network to allow them to get to work. Some parents do not have choices on snow days/delays- get fired or leave their child home-these are not reasonable options. I will continue to work to see if the City can provide other, more reasonable, choices for parents. I welcome suggestions and comments on the topic. jennifer @ jennifermckeever (dot) com

I have been grateful for a little bit of winter in our winter. I hope we can get accurate forecasts, pretreatment of the road, and get children to school and parents to work.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Buddies

As a result of the forecast for inclement weather, the School Board did not hold its Community Meeting at Jackson-Via. Our lovely clerk, Leslie, is in the process of rescheduling as we speak, probably sometime in late February. I think the timing of the meeting could be helpful to maximize input from the public about the budget. However, the meetings do not have an agenda so that the School Board can hear the public's concerns/comments/suggestions on any topic not just the budget.

Please keep an eye on this space, I will let you know when the meeting is scheduled and I hope you will consider attending. In addition, if you want to email me, please feel free jennifer @ jennifermckeever . com (thanks).

I have received emails from folks concerned about potential impacts of a $1.4 million dollar deficit on the Book Buddies program.* When I was on the campaign trail, I supported an expansion of Book Buddies. I continue to believe the number of Book Buddies volunteers should be expanded, perhaps into second grade. The costs associated with the Book Buddies program and what actually falls under the category of Book Buddies has expanded to include remediation by teachers and other interventions for children not reading on grade level. I look forward to unpacking the budget for Book Buddies - not necessarily for reducing the budget, but for understanding it more completely. I believe in the Book Buddies program and believe that the program's support staff is vital to its continued success. I feel strongly that we should not be impacting programs that are working hard to help our struggling children succeed.

Having said that, I have not heard the superintendent suggest a change to this important program. Dr. Atkins recognizes the high value this community places on Book Buddies and volunteers in the classroom. The School Board also understands and appreciates the importance of Book Buddies in our community. I do not believe I will have a difficult negotiation to maintain the status of the program. I will keep the public apprised if the situation changes.

* Note the deficit increased from $1.3 million due to a recalculation of health insurance cost increase- the school's finance director was assuming 7% increase in premiums, but realistically the costs will likely increase the maximum of 11%. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Carver Recreation Center

I welcomed the opportunity recently to sneak a peak at the newly renovated Carver Recreation Center on 4th Street prior to the grand opening Saturday. Carver is located in the newly renovated Jefferson School. The Carver fitness center has lots of cardiovascular machines and significantly more free weights than Smith Aquatic Center. The drop in fitness rooms are big. All of the rooms have a lot of natural light coming in. Ryan and I will be taking a gymnastics class at Carver at the end of the month and the room is lovely and inviting. Please read about all of the amenities of Carver on the website, I cannot do it justice.

Of course, being a sneak peak I found some snags. The locker rooms are small and called restrooms so there may be some confusion (if you are looking for the locker room, go to the restroom). My theory is that conventional wisdom in recreation center building says locker rooms do not need to be big if the center doesnt have a pool. I think Charlottesville is pretty spoiled by its locker rooms. For myself I will come to the center ready to work out and go home to change/shower. The shower is lovely, but there are only two. I think the women's restroom has only twelve lockers.  There are cubbies in the hallway to store items-similar to those outside of the group fitness rooms at ACAC. I can imagine that if a group fitness class gets out, it will be tricky to change and shower in the locker room. Having said that, I know now not to plan to shower/change at the facility. I did mention the lack of a bench in the locker room, the Director assured me that the benches were on order and would be in the locker rooms as soon as possible.

I highly recommend checking out the facility. The cost for a monthly membership is low ($39/month or $390/year for City residents) for all of the amenties, including two facilities (Smith and Carver).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jefferson School African American Heritage Center at the School Board meeting

The School Board heard a fascinating presentation by the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center at January's meeting. The Center wants to partner with the City Schools so that city students learn about the role of the Jefferson School and African Americans in Charlottesville.  The school system has been working closely with the Center so that our students can get the benefits of having such a great resource in our community.

The same night of the School Board meeting, I watched a documentary on PBS produced by the Center for Politics at UVA entitled "Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistence". The Moton School is part of the documentary. The School is now a museum. Check it out if you are in Prince Edward County, VA. As I researched this post, I realize the documentary is several years old. I recognized Alicia Lugo in the documentary, she has since passed away. The documentary is beautifully done, if you have a chance to see it, please do.

Seeing the documentary reminds me how vital it is to memorialize our history in ways that future generations will be able to learn and understand it. I am so happy that the Jefferson School Afican American Heritage Center will be able to document the history for us here in Charlottesville, it already is a great community resource. As Ned Michie noted at the School Board meeting, the executive director of the Center, Andrea Douglas, is "inspiring", full of energy, and getting results.

Goings On

Last night I attended the Clark Elementary School PTO Budget Meeting. This was a PTO meeting that was open to the public for discussion on the budget. Mr. Gillespie, the Finance Director for the schools, did a presentation on the current budget situation. The numbers remain bleak for the schools- we have a $1.33 million dollar deficit, largely as a result of a significant decrease in state funding over the past four years.

Dr. Atkins noted that she had created a list of about $5 million dollars in cuts that the School Board would consider at its February 2 work session. The list likely includes many draconian cuts that will quickly be taken off the list for consideration.  I remain open to comments and suggestions from the public about cost cutting measures we should consider.  Also here is a list of events in the school system- the budget meetings at PTO meetings are listed on this calendar, as well as work sessions, community meetings, etc.

One opportunity to tell the School Board your suggestions/thoughts on any topic is on January 17th at 7:00PM in Jackson Via's Media Center. I do hope you will attend to let us know your thoughts on the schools even though the Daily Progress' headline "No Agenda Set for Charlottesville School Meeting".
I appreciate the Progress writing an article about the Community Meeting, I hope some people will come out for it. At the last School Board meeting, I suggested including the School Board in the City Council's neighborhood meetings. I hope that works out for our next community meeting. I know how difficult it is to get out to meetings,  but I would appreciate hearing from Charlottesville people, so if you can make it, please do.

One issue not on the agenda for the last night's meeting but clearly on peoples' minds is school violence and the issue of arming teachers or having armed School Resource Officers (SRO) in the elementary schools. I encourage people to contact their state legislator with their thoughts on arming teachers or SROs in the elementary schools. The Governor's Task Force is meeting to discuss the issue. Dr. Atkins has met with the Chief of Police and other leaders to discuss Charlottesville's emergency preparedness plan. Schools are reviewing their emergency preparedness plans and doing drills. As I explained to my children, the emergency preparedness drills are designed to make sure everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency. I want to thank all of the teachers, principals, and other school staff who work hard everyday to provide a safe environment for our children to learn.  These are enormous responsibilities and our school staff "bring it" every day. Thank you. 

I know we will be hearing more from the Governor, the Task Force, our local police and constituents. Please feel free to email any thoughts you may have on the subject (or any subject for that matter) jennifer @ jennifermckeever . com


Friday, January 11, 2013

School Board Recap, sort of

It was a record breaking night at the School Board meeting last night. We adjourned before 7:30. Actually it may be more surprising we stayed as late as we did given the relatively light agenda.

The agenda included two awesome educational highlights.  The first was a performance by the XXL Minds in Motion team from Walker. The children performed beautifully in the limited space available in the media center. The second was a presentation on 4th grade electives at Venable. I love the elective program at Venable since it uses local volunteers (including, among others, US Attorney, Tim Heaphy) and teachers to enhance the curriculum through project based learning.  Thank you to all of those parents, teachers, principals and students who presented at the meeting.

Every Thursday at Burnley Moran Elementary School a "communication folder" is sent home with the students. The folder usually consists of the latest tests, PTO news, organization flyers, and news from the administration. I was happy to see a letter from the Acting Math Coordinator, Jenine Daly, in the folder this week. On the back of the page is a framework for students to consider math problems. At the last school board meeting, the administration demonstrated the fairly labor intensive way of grading math problems. One of the presenters mentioned that she used the framework to ask her child deeper questions. I thought it would be helpful for all parents to have the opportunity to ask similarly deeper questions. With the framework now in my hands, my boys better be prepared to think more deeply about what and why they are doing.

Congratulations to our new chair, Juandiego Wade and vice-chair, Amy Laufer. Also, I want to thank Ned Michie for his leadership over the past year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

One post

I told JenontheEdge I would start blogging again this week. Here I am. It has been almost four years since I regularly blogged. I had high hopes of blogging once I started on policy making boards, but the time just slipped away and I have virtually no blogging to show for it.  I do, however, have another child, a successful campaign for office and plenty of experience to share from the past years.

I have now been on the School Board for a year. It is a true privilege, one I do not take lightly. I have learned a tremendous amount and I expect to learn much more in the coming years. To the extent that the public is or should be interested in a topic, I may blog about my school board experience.

Additionally, I will blog about my transition from a working mother to stay at home mom. Clearly, a SAHM is a working mother, so I hate to use the phraseology, alas it is a short-hand that resonates.  Chris and I did some calculations and cut our budget dramatically, so that I could stay home with Ryan, our two year old and be home when our older boys get home from school.  It has been 3 weeks since I left my last position, but this is the first week Ryan and I are by ourselves and not super busy with holidays and illness.

I will blog about city politics. I will post about local/state/federal political things to the extent I have an opinion that is comprehensible. I am still a lawyer, even if I am not practicing, so I will blog about the law occasionally (including this news coming from the VA S. Ct today which combines my favorite things: the law and local government).

Tonight is 2013's first school board meeting.  The presumptive incoming chair is trying to adjourn the meeting by 7:30, ostensibly three hours earlier than our last three meetings. I am not sure putting time limits on these meetings is a good idea, particularly when we only have one meeting a month, but I look forward to trying it.